What you need to know about how to format a screenplay

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Scribendi.com provides tips on how to
make sure your screenplay format is correct.

You have your beautifully written screenplay that you know is going to appeal to all the right people. But right now it's in a state that only you can interpret. Using a proper screenplay format will help you communicate your best ideas in a standard, well-organized manner way that will be recognizable to anyone in the industry who picks it up.

Scene headings

Scene headings are used when introducing a new location in the script. The screenplay format for scene headings, or "slug lines," is that they are in all capital letters. The name of the location comes first, followed by a hyphen (-), and the words day or night. Scene headings also use INT. and EXT. to describe whether the scene takes place in the interior or exterior of the location. Scene headings begin on the left margin.

EXT. A PLAYGROUND - DAY

Description

A description is a short paragraph that sets up the scene for the viewer or reader. It introduces the setting of a scene and provides a brief description of the character's appearance and initial actions. The description is almost always written in an active voice in the present tense. It is important that the things described are things that can be seen. Extraneous contextual details should be communicated by the character or eliminated. Descriptions begin on the left margin in conventional screenplay format.

For example:

GRANT goes to leave the apartment. He grabs an old worn coat from the hook and swings it over his shoulder.

But not…

GRANT goes to leave the apartment. He grabs his favorite old coat that his grandfather left him in his will in 1978 and swings it over his shoulder.

Dialogue

In proper screenplay format the dialogue is indented 2.5" from the left edge of the page, under the speaking character's name.

Character cues

Character names are referenced in the screenplay in all capital letters when they are first introduced, and capitals are always used in dialogue headings. Further descriptions of what the character looks like or is doing use title case. Character cues are placed 4.2" from the left edge of the page.

CORA is riding a bike.

                           CORA

                Where's my cheeseburger?

If a character has no dialogue, their name does not need to be in capitals.

Sounds

Sounds heard by the audience are in all caps.

An ice cream truck CHIMES "Ice Cream Dream Melody."

Sounds issued by individual characters are not in all caps.

                           CORA

                     (Huffs)

                Pffft. I'm not chasing you.

Extensions

Extensions are placed inside parentheses and positioned to the right of the speaker's name to signify how the viewer hears the voice. There are two main types of extensions:

O.S. – off screen

V.O. – voice over

                           MOM (O.S.)

                     (Yelling)

                Cora! Dinnertime!

Parentheticals

A description of how the character looks or talks in a specific instance is put, in parentheses, below their name in dialogue. These should be used sparingly, as the character's emotional state can generally be inferred from the text. Parentheticals indicate action, attitude, and vocal emphasis. Proper screenplay formatting can help an actor easily find these directions. These cues sit 3.0" from the left edge of the page

Font

The guideline for regulation font in the film industry is 12-point Courier. Complying with an industry standard makes it easier to guess the length of time the film will take. Screenplay formatting conventions estimate one minute of screen time per page. Most film studios will not accept scripts longer than 120 pages.

Many of these screenplay formatting standards can be applied by an automated formatting program, but it is important to understand and comply with these standards when distributing your screenplay to potential buyers.

A cleanly formatted script deserves cleanly edited prose. The editors at Scribendi can help you fine-tune your manuscript. Our script editing services will make sure that your screenplay is polished, free of formatting mistakes, and ready to sell.

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